Mon, 23 Nov 2015 - 22:00
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How big a problem is congestion in our major cities?

Most of us have had the frustrating experience of sitting in traffic, with cars barely moving.  Sometimes it is highly predictable – for example at peak hour.  Other times it happens without warning –and a trip takes much longer than usual. 

It happened to me just last week, travelling from the Sydney CBD to Sydney’s Upper North Shore on a Thursday afternoon.  What would normally take about 30 to 40 minutes – even at a fairly busy time of day – took over twice as long.

This is frustrating – and affects many aspects of our lives.  Every hour you spend sitting in traffic is an hour you are not at home with your family or doing something else you would rather be doing.

But it also has a big economic cost.  Think about the hours of time which are not being used productively – or the delivery truck which can do only five trips a day rather than eight because each trip is slowed down due to congestion. 

Increasingly we can measure these economic costs – and that is just what the Australian Government’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) has been doing.  Recently BITRE released a major study into congestion costs in our cities.  The study finds that in 2015 congestion in our cities is costing us $16.5 billion dollars a year.  (In fact for technical reasons this figure is calculated in 2010 dollars - so the true cost would be even higher.)

That cost breaks down into several elements: around $6 billion in private time costs including trip delays and variations; $8 billion of costs incurred by business; $1.5 billion in extra vehicle operating costs, and one billion dollars in extra air pollution damage.

Perhaps the most significant issue the study identifies is that congestion costs are expected to continue to rise, if we do not take corrective action.  By 2030 we are likely to face congestion costs of between $28 and $37 billion a year by 2030.

So what can we do about this problem?  The BITRE report identifies a number of promising directions.  One is that the “avoidable” costs of congestion could be reduced if travel that did not need to take place in peak commuter hours shifted to other times.  Another encouraging finding: over time, the adoption of driverless vehicles is expected to improve traffic flows.

Of course, a critical part of our plan to address congestion is the construction of major new road and rail transport infrastructure projects in cities around Australia.  These include WestConnex, NorthConnex, the Northern Sydney Freight Corridors and the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan in Sydney;  Gateway WA, Perth Freight Link and Northlink in Perth; the North South Road corridor in Adelaide; Brisbane’s Moreton Bay Rail link and Gateway Upgrade North;  and in Melbourne we are widening and upgrading the Tullamarine Freeway and the next priority section of the M80 between Sunshine Avenue and the Calder Freeway.

You can see a full list of projects the Australian Government is funding by looking at the National Infrastructure Construction Schedule (NICS)  The BITRE congestion study – and lots of other interesting reports – can be found at